I was very fortunate as a little kid to be able to travel to Japan in the summertimes to go to my grandparent’s house in Oaraii-machi in Ibaraki, Japan. The term “machi” refers to a Japanese town. From what I have gathered, it is a smaller town and usually in the countryside. You will also sometimes hear “shi” attached to a city. I used to live in Mito-shi, which is a much larger city. Mito-shi had industrial buildings, government buildings, taxis, shopping malls etc.
I have never thought about how much I traveled to Japan as a little kid, but now as an adult, I can reflect on what I experienced in my youth. There is so much to explain to someone who has never experienced a traditional Japanese house. From the picture above, these are the things that I think about in a list form:
- Japanese clay tiled roofs. You will usually see blue or grey
- Genkan (the entry door way) where when you arrive you literally shout out “Tadaima!” (I’m/We’re Here!) The response from the household will be “Okaeri” (Welcome Home)
- Shoji Screens (Paper screen doors) Can’t see them from this shot, but they are there! I remember hearing these slide when someone was taking a nap and wanted some privacy
- Laundry hanging from a pole. In the countryside, a lot of the older folk use a washer to wash their clothes, but do not have a dryer. Usually the females of the household deal with this chore. No one is ashamed that your underwear or bras are hanging for everyone to see. I never dared to put any g-strings or thongs in the wash as my grandma would have asked me what it was!
- Plants, trees, flowers and shrubs. RIP grandpa! My grandfather used to trim the trees in bonsai style. I occasionally saw roadrunners, bears, cranes when he was at his climax of his masterpiece shrub designing! You will typically see some kind of Japanese pine tree, cosmos flowers, persimmon trees, sunflowers etc.
- A broom to sweep up. I see this ALL THE TIME! Maybe its even a thing that country people do just to do something to look like their busy, which means that everything else is taken care of.
- Buckets here and there collecting rain water to water the plants with.
Above is a picture of my grandfather harvesting some lettuce. My grandmother and grandfather have ultimate green thumbs. They lived before WWII and lived on farms, so it is a skill that they acquired from their parents. By the way, my grandmother and grandfather were arranged. They were arranged and it took them many years to learn about each other and come to terms with their marriage. My grandparents had 3 kids: Mariko (my mom), Masaru (second oldest brother) and Kuniyuki (youngest brother).
Ko Suzuki (Grandfather) Koto Suzuki (Grandmother)
In their younger days! They are actually semi-smiling!
My grandparents woke up at the crack of dawn! They were up at 4:30 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. The first thing my grandmother would do is to get the rice cooker started for breakfast. Both of them would put on their galoshes/wellies and go outside while it was cool. If you have ever been to Japan in the summer months, its almost unbearable. It gets super muggy to the point of steamy. There is NO AIR CONDITIONING in the house, just fans! You sweat off pounds because the conditions are like a sauna. This type of weather makes Japanese people resilient, especially the older generation. They check on the plants, the ricefields and tend to whatever they need around the house. In many cases, there is something always to pick from the garden depending on the season. Cucumbers and eggplant are always usually harvested in the summer months. I have always visited around the month of July to August so a good amount of conversation in the house is “nasu” (eggplant) or “quri” (cucumbers). Also tomatoes are grown in the hothouse. Japanese organic tomatoes are AWESOME! They collect these items of goodness in a bucket and wash them outside.
On one occasion, they hoed a WHOLE ENTIRE field to get ready to plant some summer crop. This all happened while I was asleep. They were in their 80’s and literally kicked my “ass” in regards to making the most of their day. Around 8:00, there would be more hustle in the household. This is where they were cutting up the eggplant to put in “omisoshiru” (miso soup) and they would be cutting up the cucumbers to make “tsukemono” (a type of vegetable appetizer dish of pickled vegetables). Breakfast will be served for the whole family. It usually includes rice, “natto” (Fermented soybeans), some kind of leftover from last night and pickled vegetables and omisoshiru.
Source: About.com Japanese Food Source: CruciferousVegetables
Usually grandma and grandpa will go out to do something else like water the plants or plant more plants. My grandfather will go prune trees or fix up plants. My grandmother will then go and do laundry. They use the recycled bath water to do their laundry. They don’t waste in Japan! Then hanging the laundry will take awhile. Also, this is the time to take out “futons” (fold away bed mats) and sheets. In Japan, you have a “futon” beater! It’s a great way to take out your frustration. In order to get the dust out and the bed bugs out, you take the “futon” beater and go to town! Also, she would change the water for the Butsudan (household altar)
At my grandmother’s house, we usually have a tea break around 10:00 A.M. and also at around 2:00 P.M. This allows for everyone to rest and to get some caffeine intake. It’s just usual chat about what is going to happen for the day or the next. Also the T.V. would pop on for Japanese dramas, which my grandmother is addicted to. They are usually love stories of some kind! Tea usually runs into lunch. Grandma will get up and get lunch ready while grandpa took a nap and read the newspaper.
Before dinner, the laundry was taken off the poles and folded and brought to wherever it need be. This was usually time to clean parts of the house. Also, my grandmother would fix up the House altar known as the “Butsudan“. She would put vegetables or some kind of food in front of the altar. This is to honor the family ancestors of the household. There are definitely some Shinto roots to this, but it is also syncretic with Buddhism as well. It’s hard to separate the two in Japan. My grandmother and grandfather would always pay their respects by praying to the altar.
Source: Portraits of an Island People: Religion in Japan
Dinner would usually consist of some kind of protein, pickled vegetables, rice, miso soup and leftovers of some sort. On a good evening at my grandparents house, my grandpa would cook curry rice! He made the best chicken curry! I LOVED IT! We would follow dinner with some kind of fruit. In the summer, if you are lucky, you will get some kind of melon. Too bad I’m allergic to it.
Then comes the whole house yanking around futons and pillows as well as blankets to get ready for bed. Grandma would walk around and make sure everyone had what they needed. In the summer, you practically sleep naked, but you have to cover up because of the mosquitos! They are terrible in Japan! My grandmother would light up a “katori senko” (mosquito repellant that is lit up and burns a smell that the mosquitos hate). Better safe than sorry. All the shutters for the house get shut to prevent the mosquitos from flying in. Screen doors and shoji doors are slid to bring privacy to the different rooms. Lights are put dim in some rooms while others are pitch black. If anyone gets up in the middle of the night, you can hear the wooden boards creep. Also, you can hear the frogs in the rice fields croaking. They are LOUD! My mom loves it though and it reminds her of when she was a kid. Before you go to bed you yell out “Oyasumi” (GOOD NIGHT!)
This is a picture of a “katori senko” The smell might be powerful for someone not used to it. A staple of Japanese households.
Curry Rice. Digital image. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jinramen.com/gallery>.
Futon Beater. Digital image. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://www.trekjapan.com/gallery/Tohoku/Fukushima/Nakadori/photo29.htm>.
“Hannari-Ya Home Page.” Hannari-Ya Home Page. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <http://www.hannari-ya.com/>.
“How to Make Tofu Miso Soup.” About.com Japanese Food. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <http://japanesefood.about.com/od/misosoup/ss/makingmisosoup.htm>.
Traditional Japanese Altar. Digital image. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <“Portraits of an Island People.” : Religion in Okinawa. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. .>.
“Www.CruciferousVegetables.net.” Cruciferous Vegetable Recipe For Cabbage Tsukemono. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cruciferousvegetables.net/2010/11/cabbage-tsukemono/>.